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Phoebe in Wonderland

Posted January 24th, 2008 by

I’ve seen several films now and have tickets to a few more before Sundance ends this weekend. I do believe I’ve just seen what will end up being my favorite film (other than Traces of the Trade, of course).

Phoebe in Wonderland tells the story of a “different” young girl who escapes the rule-obsessed world of her elementary school into Alice’s magical Wonderland in her mind, while playing the lead in the school play based on Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. I was drawn deeply to both Phoebe (Elle Fanning) and her mother (Felicity Huffman), and was transfixed by Phoebe’s drama teacher, Miss Dodger (in an amazing performance by Patricia Clarkson). As Phoebe continually frustrates her parents, sister, psychiatrist, and other teachers, it is her relationship with her offbeat drama teacher that forms the core of the story and Phoebe’s transformation.

There are three reasons this film moved me so deeply:

1) Miss Dodger reminds me that if we’re lucky, and I have been, we will have one or two teachers in our lifetime that will truly transform us.

2) Somewhere inside I believe we all feel a bit like Phoebe: different, misunderstood, and sometimes frustrating to those around us.

3) There is a line toward the end of the film where Miss Dodger tells Phoebe that someday she will realize–perhaps after it feels like far too much of her life has passed by before learning something so significant–that all that has happened up to that point has led to her becoming the person she is meant to be. (This is far from an exact quote, and may even be unrecognizable to many who see this film, but this is the message that came clearly to me.)

I was particularly pleased that when the lights came up the director was joined by Patricia Clarkson. Applauding her performance from my seat in the balcony, along with everyone else in the large theatre, was an important statement, and connection, to make to this fine actor for her incredible performance.

I also felt a strong connection between Phoebe in Wonderland and one of the central messages of Traces of the Trade and Inheriting the Trade: there is so much that separates us. We all long to be in more meaningful relationships and far too often we simply don’t know how to get there from here.

I look forward to seeing Phoebe in Wonderland again.

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